Review: Urban Myths – The Sex Pistols Vs Bill Grundy, Sky Arts

This was the episode of the Urban Myths series that I was both looking forward to the most and dreading the most. The Sex Pistols' infamously sweary appearance on the early evening Today programme with presenter Bill Grundy pretty much changed the face of music/popular culture, putting punk rock right into the mainstream in three expletive filled minutes. I loved what happened. Writer Simon Nye, most famous for Men Behaving Badly, perfectly captures four lads behaving very badly indeed.

The programme also captures the drab beigeness of 1970s England very well. Rachel Bright plays researcher Christine Whitehead and Steve Pemberton plays Grundy, living the suburban dream before getting into his Jag to drive to the TV studio via the pub and some lecherous looks at young women. Grundy, now dead, was a classic old school journalist, a heavy drinker but still very good at his job. Both aspects are captured well by Pemberton. He thought he could handle the Pistols no problem when Queen pulled out because Freddie Mercury had toothache (lovely stupid OTT cameo from Kayvan Novak as the singer with dental issues).

And talking of dental issues, the biggest challenge of the comedy drama here was probably getting snaggle-toothed Johnny Rotten right. And amazingly if you close your eyes Frankie Fox does an extremely good job, with the cynical deadpan sneer bang on. He almost looks the part too, rake thin and spiky haired. The only trouble is his skin is too good. He is snotty but not spotty. The band seems to be miming to the real recordings. Sensible move.

The rest of the Pistols are less well drawn. Guitarist Steve Jones (Charlie Wernham) is an identikit telly-chucking yob (“You dirty bastard… You dirty fucker...What a fucking rotter”), Paul Cook (William Kettle) is very low key and I'm not sure if bass player Glen Matlock will be that flattered by actor Matt Whitchurch's double chin. But the band's superfans known as the Bromley Contingent look the part, with Maisie Adam giving good Siouxsie Sioux swaggery moves. They must have studied the original footage hard (or maybe they studied the Amish spoof on Kevin Eldon's short-lived series). Kieran Hodgson nicely plays Malcolm McLaren as the svengali who gets out of his depth and hides in the toilet as the chaos ensues.

It's an episode that is both good on period detail (though you can nitpick if you really want to – I think the swastika armband worn by Bromley Contingent member Simon Barker was displayed more prominently in the original and Grundy wasn't such a redhead) and good on comedy. A very funny voxpop features actors playing members of the public talking about the incident, including the lorry driver who was so incensed he kicked his telly screen in. Daniel Mays plays producer Mike Housego who sees things going gloriously pear-shaped from the mixing desk and has to deal with the fallout. Grundy was suspended and his career petered out. The Pistols became household names. An excellent finish to a pretty excellent series.

The Sex Pistols Vs Bill Grundy, Sky Arts, Thursday, May 31, 9pm. Available to Sky Subscribers now.

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